Not long after Mississippi State University hired James (Babe) McCarthy to coach its basketball team, students started bringing cowbells to the field house. As State victories became more and more frequent, the din became increasingly intolerable until league legislators finally ruled that cowbells belong on cows. The ruling made Mississippi State's home court a more bearable place for visitors to play, but Babe McCarthy's team beat them anyway and Mississippi State now rivals Kentucky as a Southland power. Last year State won 24 of 25 games and tied Kentucky for the Southeastern Conference title. Only a 14th century law that prohibits Mississippi teams from competing against schools using Negro players kept the Bulldogs out of the NCAA tournament.
Good as last year's squad was, this year's, McCarthy insists, is better. "I'm jubilant," he says. There are sound reasons for jubilation. Six of his seven best players return. Gone is State's fine play-maker, Jack Berkshire, but replacing him is Doug Hutton, who has a sprinter's speed and, though only 5 feet 10, has amazing spring. He can dunk the ball. With Hutton in the backcourt is the All-Conference guard, Red Stroud.
At center will be 6-foot-7 Bobby Shows (rhymes, for some reason, with cows), a strong rebounder who won a starter's job midway through last season. The man Shows beat out for the job, 6-foot-5 Stan Brinker, will be McCarthy's sixth man. Forwards Lloyd Mitchell, a 6-foot-4 All-SEC choice, and 6-foot-5 Captain Joe Dan Gold have had two years to perfect McCarthy's meticulous style—he cares more about ball control than a man at a pinball machine. The four seniors, Gold, Mitchell, Stroud and Shows, have a 64-7 record: 21-0 as freshmen, then 19-6 and 24-1. That's a winning habit.
McCarthy's team will again display a terrifying defense and superb ball handling. It will change tempo in mid-game, streaking downcourt early to build a lead, then abruptly turning to a defensive game that is nearly impenetrable. Give State a three-point half-time lead and you are dead. "And I don't believe we have hit our peak," says McCarthy.
Houston, at New Orleans, Dec. 28
Auburn, at Auburn, Jan. 5
Kentucky, at Mississippi State, Feb. 11